Monday, October 10, 2016

The content of prayer as speech ACTS... Prayer Nuts'n'Bolts part 2 (psalm 51, Matthew 6:9-15)

You know I’m sure that two teenagers in love would probably think that they are having deep and meaningful conversations, sharing intimacy as they talk with each other over the phone. Although I am informed that no one, and definitely not teenagers these day, spend time talking over the phone… they txt each other and send emojies to express their feelings… (smiley face smiley face) or they message each other or send photos over snap chat. Which opens up a whole can of worms?  But back in the dim dark land line era…last decade, last century a millennium ago… before smart phones…hours were spent by teenagers in love on the phone right…in deep conversation… ’love you’… ‘me too’… long silence and deep heavy sigh…’can’t wait to see you again tomorrow’…’me too’…’it’s been so long since  I’ve seen you I mean you only left here half an hour ago, but it feels like forever’…’yeah’… long silence heavy sigh… ‘love you’… ‘me too’… hey my mom says I have to hang up now. It’s so unfair’’…’ok’…’Bye’… ‘Bye’… ‘are you going to hang up?’… ‘no you hang up first… ‘no you’… we’ll do it together on three’… ‘Ok’ …one …two… three…’(pause)… ‘you didn’t hang up’…’you didn’t hang up either’… ok this time…one, two… three’ …well you get the idea. For some of you it was probably bring back fond memories or deep frustrations as a parent trying to use the phone.

Maybe I’m doing teenagers a disservice, I kind of remember phone conversations like that when I was a lad, and the real emotions and buzz that went into them.  But as I’ve gotten older and got married I realize that content actually matters as well, being able to share more of one’s self on a deeper and deeper level , to be able to wrestle together, perhaps a bad choice of words, with issues that need resolution and action that starts with conversation, conversation in which content matters. It’s the same with prayer… content matters…it is both communication that develops intimacy with God… and also the basis of the Kingdom of God coming into our lives and world, as we pray and act.

October at St Peter’s is our season of Prayer. AS a parish council we have Identified Prayer as one of eight key areas we need to focus on to see our vision of being an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on that journey’ continue to blossom into reality more and more. So we’ve set aside a month to focus on and encourage our prayer lives to grow and develop and deepen. This year the focus is on the nuts and bolts of Prayer, or Prayer 101, looking at a very basic level at points about prayer and some practises that might help our prayer life to grow. Some of those nuts and bolts are very practical and some are very theological.

Last week we looked at the fact that prayer was answering speech to God… We pray as our response to God speaking to us. AS such the language we use should be natural and be us speaking to God.  I finished by encouraging people to simply take ten minutes in the day to sit and just talk with Jesus, as Jesus is always with us, and to help that to happen to visualize Jesus sitting in an empty chair or walking beside us.  

This week we are simply going to explore a helpful way of looking at the content and structure of Prayer. We are going to use the mnemonic ACTS to talk about key elements of prayer… Adoration… Confession… Thanksgiving… and Supplication. To do that our bible readings today were two prayers. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples and David’s prayer of confession and repentance when he was confronted by Nathan the prophet over his adultery with Bathsheba and his conspiring to have her husband Uriah killed in battle: Psalm 51. Writer, Presbyterian Pastor and church planter, Tim Keller says that “this traditional form of prayer, adoration, confession, thanks giving and supplication are concrete practises as well as profound experience.”

Adoration… is a word that means looking at and appreciating. Looking and knowing and expressing who God is. Adoration is a good place to start Prayer, as it causes us to focus on God. It puts everything else into perspective when we gaze at praise our God. The Lord’s prayer starts with ”our father in heaven Hallowed be thy name’ and there are sermon after profound sermon, reflection after profound reflection in that simple phrase. We see that God is a loving parent. God is spirit and different and distinct from what he created. We see an affirmation of God’s Holiness and as the Prayer goes on Jesus and our longing is that the goodness and justice of this good and Just God may grow and grow and fill the earth. 

Prayer is answering speech to God and as God reveals himself to us, through scripture, through Christ, adoration is the starting point of affirming that revelation. If you remember from last week when we looked at Psalm 5 this holy nature of God was the basis on which David felt he could come with his problems and lament before God. God is not like some corrupt politician who will give sly wink or turn a blind eye to injustice or evil. And God is full of mercy and grace and cares for his people deeply. When we see the depth of the love of Jesus Christ shown in his life and death, it causes us to want to love others more deeply more selflessly. When we see the sovereignty of God, it allows us to face up to, and persevere, through hard and difficult times knowing God is in control. When we think of his immanence, his closeness: That the Holy Spirit dwells within us, it gives us comfort even in the face of the worst of times. Knowing who God is and affirming it in adoration puts it all into perspective.

Confession:  It’s interesting one of things I was reading about prayer this week said that Prayer is the ongoing process of self-awareness our continuing self-knowledge. AS we look at who God is we become aware of who we are as well. That we are loved, that we are cherished and blessed by God, we have found new life and are becoming a new creation in Christ. But we also become aware of the darkness the shadow and the things that do not reflect the one who loves us. So confession is the way of getting that stuff out. Bringing it before God and allowing his to forgive and start the process of transformation. We are often blind to our own faults and the things that we do that are wrong. You can see that David was well on the path of not owning up or facing the depth of the evil he had committed until God used Nathan to expose it. David’s response is this wonderful prayer of contrition asking for forgiveness. Note it’s not a grovelling prayer in vain hope a last ditch effort to somehow get off the hook. David knows both God’s justice and also his mercy and grace. He is aware that God isn’t going too placated by an outward show of remorse, but will only be satisfied with a brokenness that God himself will be able to heal and bring restoration and new life to. We are called to confess our sins not hide them away like we do the dirty laundry or dirty dishes when someone comes to visit. But be willing to confess them trusting as it says in 1 John 1:10 that God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and remove all of it.

One of the things that as Christians we need to be careful about is the difference between condemnation and conviction. In Romans 8:1 Paul says there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and called according to his name…  to be condemned is destined to always live under the weight and guilt and shame of something to face the consequences…Condemnation does not bring change it just brings punishment, we beat ourselves up over it.  But in Christ we are forgiven and set free… to be convicted of something by the Holy Spirit is to have it pointed out so that we can deal it, we can plead guilty and ask for forgiveness and mercy and be able to change. In the Lord’s Prayer that change can be seen in the line “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against others”.

Thanksgiving: While adoration focuses on who God is Thanksgiving invites us to see what God has done. To open our eyes to God’s provision, in creation, his grace in forgiving and caring for us, answer to prayer, which we come to Supplication or asking prayer gives us the faith to pray knowing God answers Prayer. It invites us to look about us and to see where we have encountered and met God in the our everyday lives. It may be a simple emoje (Smiley face, Smiley face) sent from a good friend in the midst of a depressingly dreary day, right through to big things. We are going to finish our service today by singing “all the way my saviour leads Me” which was written by Fanny Crosby, the blind hymn writer, on the very day she didn’t have her rent money and risked eviction from her apartment only to be handed some money by a complete stranger in the street, which was just the right amount she needed.    Thank fullness helps us to turn our eyes from the things that would bring us down to the way in which we have been blessed by God.  It allows us to see God in action and moving all around us.

Supplication: I actually think as a word supplication coming back into regular use. Not in its long form but in some urban youth cultures people will greet each other with “s’up” which is short for ‘what’s up’ and like supplication it is asking a question. Supplication is asking prayer. It’s bringing our world and our needs and our concerns before God. Again as we have worshipped and given God adoration we do this with confidence of who God is and the goodness of God we have seen in his actions. In the run into the Lord’s Prayer in Matthews Gospel Jesus us reminds us that our father knows what we need even before we ask him.

Sometimes we might think our God is too thin, as JB Phillip’s puts it, that God is just a cosmic credit card, that we can use to get all our wants and fulfill our every whim. But as the Lord’s Prayer points out that our first asking prayer is always for God’s agenda to be fulfilled… Your Kingdom come… your will be done on earth as in heaven. It then goes on to look at God providing what we need to carry on doing our part in that ‘give us today our daily bread’.  After his talking about prayer and fasting in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus moves on to talk about economics in the kingdom of God. He invites us not to be anxious about anything, but rather to put first ‘the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.’ 

But also elsewhere in Luke 18.. We are encouraged to pray in every situation with all kinds of prayer . We can bring our concerns for God’s world and our to him, knowing that God hears and that God cares.

Ok content Matters and ACTS is a good way of looking at what goes into making up prayer. And this week I want to conclude by simply offering you a gift to help you in your prayer life. I don’t know about you but as I’ve always been told that if you want to make sense of your thoughts and ideas then it’s a good thing to write them down. We talked a communication in marriage and when Kris and I were going out I would sit down and write Kris these long letters… almost daily… keeping her up to date with what was going on… in my own soppy but sweet way letting her know how I felt about her… and Kris well wasn’t so good at writing back… when the letter did come I knew why… it was because she’d had a really hard time… her next door neighbour had tried to burn down her parents’ house… she’d had a mole cut out of her back… But for me writing even though’ I ain’t that good at English aye’… is a way of being able to express myself… Writing things down or writing your prayers out is also a good way of being able to gather your thoughts to focus you. Down through the ages God’s people have found the practise and disciple of keeping a journal or a prayer journal as a wonderful aid for prayer. Not only does it help them to focus and express themselves It is also a good thing to be able to go back and see what they had written what things they were learning about God and to see how God had answered prayer.

So this week I want to give you a gift… something I made myself. It’s just a simple seven day prayer dairy. With each day of the week inviting you to take some time to sit and pray what is on your heart. You can use notes or bullet points or poetry or long prose. But I invite you to write and then pray a prayer. Maybe at the end of the day might be the best time to do that. You might want to write a bible verse from your daily bible reading down on it as well. Then at the end of the week sit down and see where in that short time you feel you’ve come. Maybe there might be a thread running through them. This is a link for online readers to the prayer journal in a pdf formate... please feel free to download and use.  If you find this helpful I know at Church store they have some lovely printed journals or you may simply want to get an exercise book. But give it a go… The titles Adoration Confession, thanksgiving supplication are just like training wheels to help us start the Prayer journal and the prayer journey. 

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